By Marjorie Butternook, MLIS (aka Gary Shteyngart)
Dear Book Lovers,
I am delighted to report that the 2024 Book Expo America was a smashing success, shattering every record imaginable! Over 40 people attended, an increase of roughly 5% over last year's 38. Once again, the Expo was held at Ruth Cohen's apartment on Riverside Drive (thank you, Ruthie!). Barnes & Bordles set up a nice little stand downstairs in the boiler room, trying to sell off a small portion of the roughly 92 million remainders from fiscal years 2010 through the present. Jimmy the doorman couldn't have been more helpful in getting the attendees into the elevator and up to Ruthie's apartment. (Not an easy task, believe me, since so many of us have ambulatory issues.)
Upstairs, the action was hopping! The living room was a zoo, with both major remaining U.S. publishers, Random Penguin House of New York and Bob's Deep Water Salvage & Printed Junk of Wilmington, N.C., squaring off against each other with over eight titles in total. RPH was pretty ruthless in setting up next to Ruthie's ficus, which also has the nice southern exposure, while Bob got most of the foyer space, the double coat closet, and the “hall tree” umbrella stand. A special foreign guest, Italy's last publisher, Mondadori Cookbooks, a division of Berlusconi Light Industries, set up in the kitchen, and, boy, did Mr. Leopardo cook up a storm for us.
Booksellers included Robbie Pearlmutter of America's Last Bookstore in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. Mr. Pearlmutter ran from one stand to the other and back again, eagerly flipping though the books and grabbing copies for himself. “This is a banner year,” he told us. “I'm especially excited about June Greenberg-Choi's memoir of the financial collapse of 2019, Eating Noodles in the Dark. Forty yuan for the paperback is very competitively priced.” Meanwhile, Russian émigré writer Jerry Shteynfarb made the rounds, buttonholing attendees with a stapled copy of his latest memoir, Look at Me! I'm a Big Freaking Immigrant.
But the main excitement of BEA 2024 was the appearance of 40-year-old Larry McNulty and his eight-year-old son, Download, our youngest visitors in a decade! “My father read printed matter,” Larry said. “I remember he read to me before bedtime, something about a small fossil-fuel-burning vehicle that could. I just wanted to pass this stuff on to my own kid.”
Young Download McNulty was scared of the books at first, his Brain Nozzle pumping him full of Video Sprays. When he was given a copy of Eating Noodles in the Dark he kept saying “I'ma reflux my lunch.” Ruthie, who is married to a doctor, worried the child would choke, but was told it was “only an expression.” Download picked up the book and kept pressing on its cover, title, and spine, hoping that images would appear. Ruthie told him that books weren't interactive and they couldn't be brain-pumped, that you had to open them up and read the text with your eyes.
She told Download he had to keep his Brain Nozzle on standby. “Read a little,” she said, “and then every once in a while try closing your eyes and entering the mind of the author.”
“What's an author?” Download asked.
“It's someone who's not you who wrote the book.”
“But I'm special,” Download said.
“I know you are,” Ruthie said.
“My dad and teachers say I'm a superhero. I'm the specialest little guy alive. What if this book thing makes me into someone else?”
“You don't have to worry about becoming the author if you read her book,” Ruthie said. “But if you focus on the words, Download, your life may change just a little.”
“Your life may change just a little,” Download mimicked her sarcastically.
There was a huge clatter from the hallway as my fellow aging librarians burst in with their wheelbarrows, quickly grabbing any books they could with their shaking hands while Robbie Pearlmutter of America's Last Bookstore fought them off with his cane. In the corner, Download had already figured out how to open the book and had placed his little index finger on the first word. He traced the word backwards and forwards, finally opening his mouth, like so many children before him.
“The,” he read, holding on to his Brain Nozzle for comfort. And then his mouth formed the rest.